J.T. Ginn Powers Mississippi State To Key Victory At Frisco Classic
HOUSTON — Saturday night at the Frisco College Classic was headlined by a classic power versus power matchup.
In one dugout, you had No. 9 Mississippi State and freshman phenom JT Ginn, an unsigned first-round pick with a versatile fastball that he can sink, cut or blow by hitters with velocity that reaches the mid-90s and a devastating slider.
In the other, you had No. 8 Texas Tech and a vaunted lineup that boasts power up and down the order, speed to burn and an attitude that they’re going to keep the gas pedal pressed to the floor from beginning to end.
Ultimately, it was the prized righthander that got the best of the showdown. Ginn led Mississippi State to a 4-2 victory to improve to 2-0 in the Frisco Classic and 10-1 overall.
Texas Tech (6-3) all night tried with everything they had to impose their will by taking extra bases and applying pressure on the defense. Gabe Holt led off the first with a single, moved to second on a ball in the dirt and then stole third base.
But Ginn was undeterred. He got Dru Baker swinging on an 89 mph cutter and one batter later, sat down Preseason All-American Josh Jung on a 92 mph sinker. He finished the inning by getting Brian Klein to ground out.
In the second, Texas Tech was able to scratch across a run much in the same way. Dylan Neuse singled, stole second, moved to third on a balk and scored on a wild pitch on a ball that he had little business scoring on, as it couldn’t have caromed more than ten feet away from catcher Dustin Skelton. The Red Raiders also plated a run in the sixth when Holt singled, moved to second on a wild pitch, stole third and scored on a fielder’s choice.
You can see the theme here. Texas Tech was able to manufacture runs when they had runners on base. The issue, however, was that those instances were few and far between, and Ginn never let innings snowball on him.
After Neuse’s second-inning single, Ginn retired 12 consecutive batters, a stretch that took him all the way into the sixth inning, when Holt singled. Only once, in that sixth inning when Easton Murrell drew a walk after Holt’s hit, did Texas Tech have two runners on at once.
By the time Ginn was lifted, he had thrown seven innings, giving up two runs on three hits and one walk, while striking out eight. Ginn sat 92-94 mph with his fastball early and was still working 90-92 mph with the offering late in his start, but with the fastball, it was as much about the movement as anything else.
Then there’s the slider, and that became more of a weapon as the game grew older. Half of his strikeouts came on the pitch, leaving Texas Tech hitters flailing at pitches out of the zone, an uncommon sight from one of the more disciplined offenses in the country.
“Obviously he’s got enough fastball, but the slider spin must be really tight” Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock said. “We see what he has all the time. There’s a stockpile of them down there in our bullpen that have got the same type of arm strength, but maybe the slider spin isn’t the same, because he was throwing it starting it at the knees, and usually our guys can lay off that pitch quite a bit.”
This type of success is nothing new for Ginn, who pitched for USA Baseball’s 18U national team that won a gold medal at the 2017 World Cup and was drafted 30th overall by the Dodgers. He’s adjusted quickly to college baseball and is already one of the frontrunners for Freshman of the Year.
With starts against increasingly difficult competition—from Youngstown State, to Southern Mississippi and now Texas Tech—he’s 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA, a 24-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio and an .109 opponent average.
“That’s the games that you want to pitch in,” Ginn said of his starts against ever-tougher lineups. “You want the big game. I want the ball in my hands to give my team the best chance to win.
“It’s different. Obviously Texas Tech is one of the best offenses in the country, so you’ve got to go in kind of prepared a little more. You’ve just got to execute, it’s all about executing pitches, and letting your defense work, and it’s a great team win.”
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With lefthander Ethan Small, who has still not walked a batter this season, emerging as an ace and Ginn becoming an immediate star, this very well could be the best one-two punch in the country. And while that’s the headline of this pitching staff’s performance to this point, its depth is just as notable.
Fourth-year righthander Keegan James is a nice piece to have starting on Sundays, and it’s a luxury to have righthander Peyton Plumlee, a weekend starter for a spell as a sophomore in 2017, serving in a midweek role.
In the bullpen, righthander Cole Gordon has been untouchable in the closer’s role, striking out 11 in seven shutout innings of work, featuring a fastball at 90-91 mph and a breaking ball that has taken a big jump as an out-pitch this season. This weekend, he’s closed out both of the Bulldogs’ victories.
Fifteen different pitchers have appeared in a game for MSU already, and 13 of those have appeared in two or more. They don’t have a single pitcher with an ERA higher than 4.50, and they don’t have anyone who has thrown more than 2.1 innings with an ERA higher than 2.45. Clearly, this has been a team effort.
“I tell you what, my freshman year, I got here and we had seven arms,” Skelton said. “My sophomore year last year, we had nine arms, and this year, we’ve got 15, 16. We’re just so deep. Everybody we can throw out there, I know they’re going to go out there and dominate.”
Pick a pitching statistic and it’s a virtual guarantee the Bulldogs have excelled in that particular measure. Their team ERA is 1.53. They’ve struck out 136 and walked only 25 in an even 100 innings of work. Opposing batters are hitting just .179 against the staff, and it’s a fairly empty .179 average, as they’ve allowed just ten extra-base hits in 11 games.
Just two seasons ago, the Mississippi State pitching staff was so injury-ravaged that center fielder Jake Mangum was pressed into duty on the mound. Last season, they were improved, but perhaps were a pitcher or two short when it was all said and done in Omaha.
This season? Led by a freshman who has pitched like anything but so far, the Bulldogs’ staff has championship potential.